At an event in 2013 to discuss the British legacy in Palestine, Jeremy Corbyn said the following:
“The other evening we had a meeting in Parliament in which Manuel made an incredibly powerful and passionate and effective speech about the history of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people. This was dutifully recorded by the – the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said. They clearly have two problems: one is they don’t want to study history and secondly having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony and he uses it very very effectively.”
I think he meant that Zionists, even if they’ve lived in this country all their lives, aren’t really properly English. They don’t understand what the Englishers are really like. They don’t understand what they mean when they speak in their sophisticated English way.
It’s a good thing he said ‘Zionists’ and not ‘Jews’ because otherwise he might be accused of antisemitism. [Note. The last sentence was a rather clumsy attempt at irony].
No, you may say, he was talking about people with certain political commitments, he wasn’t talking about Jews as Jews so this cannot be antisemitism. He was only talking about Zionists (in this usage of the word it is understood to mean racists, apologists for human rights abuses, pro-apartheid and Nazis).
But wait. The charge is one of an inability to understand English irony, in spite of having lived amongst the real Englischers all your life. How is that related to a political identity?
Well, you say, Zionists aren’t really English because they themselves choose loyalty to a foreign nation rather than to Britain. So it is their own choice not to be properly English; not an antisemitic libel at all; but a choice to be disloyal to your own nation and to be loyal to a global and racist nation far away.
But no. Corbyn is enjoying the old sneery English view of Jews, and he’s doing it to humiliate the Jews that he’s talking about. They live among us but they’re not really one of us. This actually isn’t Corbyn’s usual political antisemitism, although it originates in that well: this is a spill-over into ordinary old fashioned English antisemitism. It is as if the political requirement to humiliate the Zionists just finds its words in the antisemitic subconscious of the English middle class man.
Sometimes people say that hostility to Zionists cannot be antisemitic because many Zionists are not Jewish. Imagine if Corbyn had said this about a non-Jewish Zionist; take for example the well known Zionist Tony Blair. What sense would these words possibly have made in that context? ‘Blair has lived amongst us all his life but he still doesn’t understand English irony.’ Corbyn would never say that because it wouldn’t mean anything. It wouldn’t key into any emotional order; it wouldn’t humiliate Blair, it would just sound weird.
Imagine if a politician had said this about a group of black people or a group of Muslims: that in spite of having lived in this country for all their lives, they were unable to understand English irony.
Incidentally, Corbyn’s word ‘dutifully’ is interesting too. And his ‘thankfully silent’ comment, before the later ‘berating’ of the speaker. Duty to what? Duty to a foreign power, duty to a global Israel lobby. What were they doing? They were recording a Labour back-bencher making an antisemitic speech. They are the aggressors, Corbyn is the victim. Antisemites are always the victims of Jews. Amazing that these un-Britischers could remain silent for so long; amazing that they had the chutz-pah to criticize (‘berate’) the speaker afterwards; amazing that they had anything to say since they had studied no history.
So, supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Do you now think that Corbyn sometimes slips into antisemitism? Or maybe it doesn’t count, because it’s been weaponised by the Daily Mail? Do watch the video on the Mail website. Feel Corbyn’s angry contempt; the transcript doesn’t do it justice. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6087783/Jeremy-Corbyn-said-British-Zionists-no-sense-English-irony.html
What are you going to say? You’re going to say that the Fake News are dredging up old comments out of context? You’re going to say that he was talking about Zionists not Jews. You’re going to say it’s all a smear and a lie. You’re going to say it’s a one off? You’re going to say that you don’t care because Corbyn’s good and I’m bad.
You’re going to resist connecting this incident to Corbyn’s claim that Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to peace, social justice and political justice; or Corbyn being paid £20,000 for fronting programmes for the antisemitic Iranian propaganda mouthpiece Press TV.
You won’t connect it to Corbyn’s defence of conspiracist Steven Sizer, saying he was a victim of the Israel lobby. Oh, incidentally, you can see Sizer on the Daily Mail video just behind Corbyn? You remember Steven “9/11 Israel did it” Sizer, don’t you?
You won’t connect it to Corbyn’s defence of Raed Salah, blood libler; to Corbyn’s honouring of the planners of the Munich Olympic murders; to Corbyn’s claim that UK Foreign Office is controlled the Israel Lobby… Need I go on?
No, I don’t need to go on. Because no matter how long I go on, it will make no difference. Jeremy Corbyn, like Donald Trump, cannot be harmed by new revelations. Because his supporters are so emotionally and psychologically invested in his basic goodness that there is literally nothing that could emerge that cannot be explained away.
Senior Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London
Author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’.